“Hey Porter!, Hey Porter! What time did ya say?
How much longer will it be til I can see the light of day?”
Hey Porter! – Johnny Cash
I would bet that virtually everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous dark black-brown “stout” known as Guinness; whether you like it or not it is absolutely everywhere. Personally I’m not a huge fan and find it a bit bland, watery and characterless, but in some pubs and clubs it’s a choice between a pint of Guinness or mass-market fizzy lager, so I’ve been known to down a pint or occasionally ten.
So The Black Stuff is everywhere; you’d be hard pushed to find a high-street pub or even back street free-house that won’t be able to pour you a pint. But with the resurgence of the craft brew industry and it’s growing fan base this very fact is maybe causing the owners Diageo a little bit of a problem.
Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and so despite having an iconic brand bolstered by super-chilled versions, sports sponsorships, cans with widgets, St. Paddy’s Day extravaganzas and that cheeky toucan, they are obviously worried about the more educated and adventurous breed of beersumer that is emerging.
I have no doubt this is behind the recent decision to nudge their way into the craft beer market with the release of limited edition “Brewers Source” releases. Apparently based on historical records from their Brewers’ notes these twists on the omnipresent black liquor are obviously an attempt to bring the more educated hop-addict back to their fold. Labelled as “porter”s to differentiate them even further from their usual “stout” there is in fact no difference, “stout” being merely a truncation of “stout porter” i.e. a stronger version of porter.
While it would be easy enough to dismiss this as a cynical ploy to squeeze out the competition and line the pockets of a giant corporation at the expense of the little guys you have to remember that however massive Guinness is now, at one time it too must have been a much smaller and less corporate lead operation.
So in the interest of fairness, and out of a fair bit of curiosity, I grabbed a couple of bottles of their historical porters from Tesco when I saw it on offer the other day. Dark beers are my favourite type and porters in particular, so a tough test lay ahead of the brewing giant..
First impressions; the packaging is ok; Nothing wild but it includes a fair bit of information about the heritage and composition of the recipe, which is always nice to see. The brews are still recognisable as part of “Brand Guinness”, but looking old-fashioned and far less sports oriented, which can only be a good thing in my book.
“West Indies Porter”. (ABV 6.0%).
First up was a glass of a Caribbean style porter, allegedly based on a recipe from 1796 this is the stronger of the two I had picked up. At first quaff I was pleasantly surprised.; burnt spicy hops and coffee / liquorice hit the palette with a zing and make it a much livelier and more interesting version of standard Guinness. It danced over my tongue in a rather pleasant fashion and certainly didn’t have any of the thickness or sweet – heaviness that one might associate with a beer of this strength. Still recognisably Guinness the flavours lifted it above the standard offering, for a while at least.
Unfortunately the lively nature of the brew went rather flat fairly quickly. Once the carbonation had died down a little this particular beer lost its charm and turned flat and uninspiring, much like its modern counterpart; still drinkable, but nothing special. Perhaps I was drinking it a little too slowly (it was a school night), but at this strength is it really going to be something you’re going to guzzle down anyway?
Mike’s Brew Rating – 7/10 fading rather quickly to 4/10
“Dublin Porter”- 3.8%
From a 1801 entry in the brewer’s diaries this moderate strength standard Porter was bound to be different to the regular blackstuff. . Again kitted out with an old-fashioned looking bottle I wasn’t expecting an awful lot from this after the eventual disappointment of the previous ale. However overall I probably enjoyed this more than preceding tipple, something I didn’t expect as I normally prefer my beer around the 5%+ mark.
Totally different in style to the West Indian offering this was actually more like a mild than a porter in my opinion. Heavily carbonated and therefore “a bit of a belcher”, it did a fizzy dance over my tongue leaving a trail of sweet vanilla-caramel rather than the coffee or dark chocolate you would normally associate with this style and with enough hopiness to give a refreshingly dry finish.
Unlike the first bottle this beer managed to retain its lively nature to the end, though I probably did in all fairness drink it a little more quickly. That was partly due to the thirst-quenching nature of this particular drop. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it again due to the lower ABV,, but if I was offered it on a hot day I’d guzzle it down in short order (and burp like a hippopotamus afterwards!)
Mike’s Brew Rating – 6/10
So, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately if you’re a microbrewery) it seems that Guinness’ attempt to tap the craft market revival has fallen a little short. While I preferred both offerings to “standard” Guinness there are far better and much more interesting examples of the style readily available, even from your local supermarket.
If you have never tried stout / porter style beers (possibly because you have sampled the omnipresent Irish pint or can’t be bothered to wait for it to be poured) I really would recommend giving them a go, especially if you like coffee, dark chocolate or fruity notes. Available in a number of subtly different variations they are perfect for a winter’s eve by a fire in your local, or snuggled up on the sofa with a loved one.
Mike’s Stout / Porter Style Ale Recommendations
Titanic Brewery – Plum Porter (4.9%); Delicious and satisfying with a sweet, fruity character.
Ridgeway Brewery – Bad King John (6.0%); Incredibly moreish Black English Ale.
DG – Dragon Stout (7.5%); Strong Caribbean style, sweeter than English varieties.
William Bros. – March of The Penguins (4.9%); complex and creamy. One of my favourites.
Mike Richardson is a freelance journalist, photographer and radio presenter. He also likes the odd beer or five.
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